The Blitz Chess Manifesto – Chess.com


May 28, 1992. Moscow.

The newly-established Russian Federation is enmeshed in social and economic tumult following the dissolution of the USSR. But chess fans have been treated to a small respite: a blitz tournament, broadcast live on television, is taking place at the Central Journalists’ House on 8 Nikitsky Boulevard. The field is mouthwatering, featuring top Russian grandmasters and headlined by none other than the reigning world champion Garry Kasparov.

But the center of attention is not on Garry. It is on the gaunt figure who sits across the board from him. Clad in a dark blazer, eyes furrowed in concentration, the man executes his moves with practiced confidence and breathtaking speed. He sacrifices a knight in a Sicilian, and the resultant complications prove too complicated even for Garry.

His flag falls just as he is about to beat back the attack.

Nikitsky Boulevard. moscow

Nikitsky Boulevard in Moscow.

The gaunt figure is a terminally ill Mikhail Tal.  Exactly one month later, on June 28, 1992, the Magician from Riga, aged 55, died. As Genna Sosonko famously put it, “all of his organs had stopped functioning”.

Yet the Grim Reaper himself could not stop Misha Nekhemyevich from having himself one last session of blitz. And a damn good session at that.         

I decided to start with this heartwarming vignette not because it is unique, but precisely because it isn’t unique. There are very few chess players whose interest in the classical form of the game isn’t equaled — or even superseded — by a fascination with blitz. The advent of online chess servers, coupled with ever-increasing Internet accessibility around the world, has enabled chess enthusiasts of every level and nationality to satisfy their craving for speed chess, and has contributed to the surging popularity of super-tournaments with reduced time controls.   

Despite these trends, chess literature on blitz improvement is virtually nonexistent. My dogged search revealed only a handful of sources: there is a 2005 book by the USCF expert James Maxwell, a recent monograph by GM Evgeny Sveshnikov and his son that offers an opening repertoire tailored to blitz, and several excellent streamers who offer informative commentary while they play. But to my knowledge, no serious blitz player has produced a full-length instructional course on how to get better at blitz.

In “The Blitz Manifesto”—my new bi-weekly column—I will endeavor to provide a comprehensive guide to blitz mastery. There are probably a thousand questions on the tip of your tongue. Why blitz? What topics will you cover? What makes you a “serious blitz player”? Why should I read about blitz when I can play blitz? Stop talking and get on with it already!

The short answer: all in due time. To lay the foundation, I will address four critical questions that will give you a better sense of what this column is all about. More important, we will begin to negotiate the treacherous path to blitz mastery.

Question 1: What makes you a blitz specialist, Daniel?

Without a doubt, the name most commonly associated with blitz stardom is Hikaru Nakamura. Ever since his formative days playing on the Internet Chess Club under the handle “Smallville,” Hikaru has dazzled kibitzers with his otherworldly speed, tactical precision, and breathtaking tenacity. As of today, his blitz rating on Chess.com is 3014. He is the best consistently-active blitz player in the world, end of story.

Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

My blitz pedigree is laughable in comparison. I’ve been a blitz addict for well over a decade, amassing roughly 30,000 total rated games across various online servers. On Chess.com, my rating fluctuates between 2800 and 2900, putting me within striking distance of the top-10 active players on the site. With that said, my blitz skill isn’t really anything to write home about. I’m fast—but not that fast. My tactics are decent, but rare is the occasion when I play two consecutive games without leaving a piece en prise. In short, I consider myself a good blitz player, but if you are looking for a recipe to defeat Hikaru, you’ve come to the wrong place. 

I believe that I am qualified to write this column because I have made a concerted attempt through the years to develop a blitz style that is both creative and fundamentally sound. Consequently, the advice I will share in this column is tied to my classical chess style and to my blitz philosophy. I do not claim to be imparting the blitz manifesto (so Karl Marx can rest easy), but rather blitz manifesto that has worked for me. Here is a recent specimen that illustrates both the good and the bad of my style.  

Having suffered through the first portion of the game, it is time for the reward. 

Question 2: I like blitz, but who cares about online ratings!? I want to win over-the-board tournaments, not three-minute matches! 

There are two lines of thinking that made me put this valid point aside. First, I argue that while online ratings themselves are not important, what these ratings reflect carries far more weight. If you spend a sizable portion of your time playing blitz, then—at the risk of putting words in your mouth—it seems reasonable to conclude that you want to realize your full potential. Our days on this planet are not infinite, so if you’re in for a penny, why not go the full nine yards? 

Second, the divide between blitz and classical chess is not as wide as one might think. In fact, I strongly believe that when taken seriously, blitz can be used as a powerful and versatile training tool for classical improvement. Although the correlation between the two is far from linear (more about this in the subsequent question), in my own experience there have been plenty of lessons that I have learned while moving a mouse and then successfully applied on a wooden board. One such instance took place at last year’s U.S. championship.  

Question 3: There is obviously some level of correlation between classical improvement and blitz improvement. Since my time is limited, does it really make sense to allocate time specifically for blitz improvement?    

The short answer is an emphatic yes. Make no mistake: I am not claiming that mastering the intricacies of pre-moving will enable you to sweep the field at the World Open. At the same time, as mentioned earlier, if you are indeed passionate about blitz, then streamlining your improvement in this area may bring about a good deal of personal fulfillment. Furthermore, I will write each article in this column with two supplementary aims in mind:  

1. At all times, I will do my utmost to ensure that as much advice as possible is at least tangentially applicable to classical chess. We will not be examining blitz in a vacuum; at times, we will analyze over-the-board games to see how knowledge acquired in blitz can be successfully transferred to the board. My game against Robson is a case in point.

2. Each article will be readable and digestible in 15 minutes or under. As you may know from my previous articles, I believe that playing through deeply-annotated games significantly enhances one’s learning experience. Blitz games are no exception. However, I will attempt to design each article so that all of the main points are emphasized in the text. If you are pressed for time, you will always be able to benefit from the article without having to look through every variation through a magnifying glass.   

Finally, it is important to note that not all great over-the-board players are as (comparably) good at blitz, and vice-versa. In a sense, attaining blitz mastery requires looking at the game through a different set of lenses. And if you’re experiencing a slump in your over-the-board improvement, then this change of perspective may very well lead to positive developments in your motivation and classical playing strength. 

Question 4: All right, let’s get down to business. What exactly are you going to cover, and what will your subsequent articles look like?     

If you think I’m going to reveal a lot about the column in the introduction, think again! It would spoil the fun. What I can say is that blitz offers untold treasures in terms of instructive material: just think about how many online blitz games have been played, and how few of them are well-known! While I will (sometimes) make an accent on my own blitz games, I will certainly not limit myself to my own pitiful blitz career. There will be games from players of every level, from every online server, and from every time period since the dawn of the time…or rather, the dawn of blitz. 

A few additional clarifications are in order. I consider 3+0 to be the standard time control for blitz, but my points will be equally as applicable with a modified time control, such as 5+0 or 3+2, or even in rapid games. On a related note, the vast majority of blitz games these days take place on the Internet, which means that a portion of articles will be written with an eye toward success in Internet blitz. However, I will also make digressions to discuss certain dynamics specific to over-the-board blitz, and many of the illustrative games will be drawn from tournaments such as the World Blitz Championship. After all, this tournament is the only thing in the universe that will actually get me out of bed and in front of my computer at 5 A.M.  

Finally, I hope that this column will, in due course, take on a collaborative nature. The reason I did not title it “Naroditsky’s Blitz Manifesto” is because I hope that you, the reader, will play an integral role in its development. I encourage any agreement, dissent, praise, criticism, or other contributions in the comments section, so long you adhere to the basic standards of courtesy and respect. Share your experiences; call me out; debate my arguments; ask as many questions as your heart desires. We are in this together. Given the scarcity of material on blitz improvement, this is new territory for all of us, including me. Safety in numbers, as they say.    

But, all in good time. It’s time for my nightly blitz session. I will leave you with one of my fondest blitz memories, a game that was played almost a decade ago and that served as one of the watershed moments in my blitz addiction.   



Latest Sports Poll on Sports Betting and Attitudes on Baseball Featured by USA Today, MSN, ESPN, Star Ledger and … – Seton Hall University News & Events


Sports Polling at Seton HallThe most recent Sports Poll, which featured questions on attitudes about baseball and the prospect of widespread legalized sports betting was featured by ESPN, USA Today, MSN, Legal Sports Report and the Star Ledger.

The poll, which is sponsored by the Stillman School of Business and its Sharkey Institute, queried the public regarding these issues and found that by a nearly 2 to 1 margin Americans thought that recent rule changes in baseball that limit the number of visits to the pitching mound would make the game “feel faster.” However, 53% said they thought baseball games took too long, with just 40% disagreeing. USA Today featured these results and a quote from the poll’s director, Rick Gentile, in its “Notable Numbers” feature on the front page of the Sports section.

The poll also found that interest in baseball among millennials was down, with MSN and ESPN writing about that aspect of the poll.

MSN noted that:

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been on a mission to change the game to gain the interest of young fans. However, it does not appear to be working.

According to a recent poll by Seton Hall University, 22.7 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds have become less interested in baseball. At the same time, only 5.4 percent became more interested in the MLB product.

Likewise, Darren Rovell of ESPN tweeted to his 2 million plus followers the results: The @HallSportsPoll asked 18- to 29-year-olds to describe their feeling towards MLB as compared to the past. 66.6% said it was the same 22.7% said they were less interested 5.4% said they were more interested 5.3% said they didn’t know.

With regard to the prospect of more widespread legalized sports betting (the U.S. Supreme Court will soon render a decision that could make it legal) the poll found that people favored sports betting by 20 pts. (55% – 35%) and found that people favored control of the matter in states hands (as opposed to the federal government) by an even greater margin: 62% said sports gambling should be under state control, with 27% saying the federal government should control it.

Perhaps most surprising, however, was that despite the fact that people favored legalized sports betting, they also believed that it would impact the integrity of the games:

…by a margin of 48% – 42%, those same respondents feel that legalized betting would negatively impact the integrity of sporting events. Even among those favoring legalized gambling, one of three believes that it would have a negative impact.

“It’s outrageous when you think about it,” noted Rick Gentile, director of the poll, which is sponsored by the Sharkey Institute. “It comes close to saying ‘We don’t care about the legitimacy of the games, what matters is being able to bet on them. A majority favors gambling, and by a slimmer margin think the games might be fixed as a result.”

The Star Ledger, ESPN, Calvin Ayre, Legal Sports Report and Casino.org all wrote about the sports betting poll results.

Media

  • USA Today, “Notable Numbers”
  • MSN, “Poll Reveals Millennial Interest in MLB is Still Decreasing”
  • ESPN, Darren Rovell
  • Star Ledger, “What Americans think about legalizing sports betting as Jersey waits for it”
  • ESPN, David Payne Purdum
  • Legal Sports Report, “Poll: Majority Favors Legal Sports Betting, But Nearly Half Say Wagering Would Hurt Game Integrity”
  • Calvin Ayre, “Poll: Americans want states, not feds, to control sports betting”
  • Casino.org “Majority of Americans Favor Legal Sports Betting Despite Possible Integrity Issues, Says Poll”
  • Casino.org “New Jersey Sports Betting Bill Sets Regulatory Framework, Includes ‘Integrity Fee’”



UCLA Basketball: Steve Alford's discrepancy in wins and the NBA Draft – Go Joe Bruin


TUCSON, AZ – FEBRUARY 25: Head coach Steve Alford of the UCLA Bruins reacts during the first half of the college basketball game against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center on February 25, 2017 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Go Joe Bruin looks at UCLA basketball and the Pac-12 over the last five years, comparing conference records and players sent to the NBA Draft, and the results are similar to the comparison’s made by Jon Wilner and Pac-12 football.

If the title of this article sounds familiar, it should. I recently wrote an article of similar nature about the UCLA football team. The unfortunate part is that when examining UCLA basketball‘s place in the Pac-12, the results are just as underwhelming.

RELATED:: Jim Mora’s discrepancy between wins and the NFL Draft

First off, let me start off by saying that this idea originated from Jon Wilner of the Mercury News’ Pac-12 Hotline. If you have not already, check out his article, One Measure of Pac-12 Coaching: Compare Conference Win Totals to the Number of NFL Draft Picks Produced.

In that piece, he compared conference records among Pac-12 football teams and their NFL Draft picks, and the results, especially when looking at UCLA’s production over the last six years shows severe underachievement on the part of former Bruin coach Jim Mora.

That got me to thinking about what the comparison between UCLA basketball’s conference records and the amount of players they have sent to the pros.

Using Wilner’s model, we will look at: (1) five-year conference win totals (Wilner used six, but we will stick to five to parallel Steve Alford’s tenure at UCLA), (2) conference win percentage, (3) five-year draft totals, (4) percentage of Pac-12 draft picks and (5) win total relative to draft picks.

Conference Wins by Year (2013-18)

  • Arizona: 14+16+12+16+15=73
  • Oregon: 10+16+14+13+9=63
  • Utah: 11+11+13+13+9=57
  • UCLA: 11+15+6+11+12=55
  • Stanford: 11+6+8+9+10=44
  • Colorado: 8+8+10+7+10=43
  • Cal: 2+10+12+7+10=41
  • Arizona State: 8+7+5+9+10=39
  • USC: 12+10+9+3+2=36
  • Washington: 10+2+9+5+9=35
  • Oregon State: 7+1+9+8+8=33
  • Washington State: 4+6+1+7+3=21

The top two are obvious, but third and fourth are a bit of a shock. Utah has two more victories than UCLA in five years. That 2015-16 season, where the Bruins went 15-17 overall, really gives their conference win total a hit. Now let’s look at the percentage of conference wins.

Conference Game Win Percentage (2013-18)

  • Arizona: 81.1%
  • Oregon: 70.0%
  • Utah: 63.3%
  • UCLA: 61.1%
  • Stanford: 48.9%
  • Colorado: 47.8%
  • Cal: 45.6%
  • Arizona State: 43.3%
  • USC: 40.0%
  • Washington: 38.9%
  • Oregon State: 36.7%
  • Washington State: 23.3%

Once again, Arizona, Oregon and Utah lead the Pac-12. UCLA comes in 4th with only a 61.1% conference win percentage. This is a big reason why they have not won a single regular season conference championship in Alford’s tenure. Sure they came close during the 2016-17 season, but not close enough.

Unfortunately, UCLA basketball fans, these numbers are even more depressing when you look at the number of players sent (and sending) to the NBA.



Wiggins names Easton Ramirez new head wrestling coach – Fort Morgan Times











Wiggins senior Cael Croissant (center) embraces his father and head coach, Dave Croissant, after defeating Santino Mendoza of Rocky Ford by decision 8-4 in


Wiggins senior Cael Croissant (center) embraces his father and head coach, Dave Croissant, after defeating Santino Mendoza of Rocky Ford by decision 8-4 in the quarterfinals of the 2A state wrestling tournament on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 at Pepsi Center. (Brandon Boles / Fort Morgan Times)

Wiggins High School announced on Wednesday that Easton Ramirez will be named the next head coach for the wrestling team in 2018-19, replacing longtime wrestling coach Dave Croissant.

Easton had previously coached at University High School the last couple of seasons and has helped with the Wiggins High School baseball team and middle school football team this school year.

“It feels great,” Ramirez said. “I enjoyed watching Wiggins at the Pepsi Center fill up a section and have success at state before. It was an eye opener, and to know that I’ll take over a program with that history is great.”

Ramirez took a student-teaching position with Wiggins and was later given a full-time teaching position in the community. He said getting the chance to coach where he works was a big reason he decided to pursue the coaching job in Wiggins.













(Easton Ramirez)

“I was working here already but commuting to University (High School) to coach,” Ramirez said. “I would lose about two hours a day on the road just traveling.”

Ramirez said he was one of a handful of candidates being considered for the position. Now named the head coach, he hopes to bring a buzz back to the program that was similar to what they had in their heydays.

“I’m looking forward to building this program up,” Ramirez said. “I know they were down in terms of numbers last year, so that is where to start. I want to get interest in the sport with the younger kids to have them join.”

In an interview with the Fort Morgan Times, Croissant said the decision was made as a chance to pursue chances to stay close with his family in the future.

“A little bit of it was Cael (Croissant) graduating and my youngest, Cole, will be a seventh grader,” Croissant said. “(Cole) will go to Eaton next year, so that was part of it. I’ll have the freedom to see what Cole does, and I can also take off if I can to see Cael.”

Cael Croissant recently announced his commitment to Hastings College to play baseball after graduating this spring.

With a long history coaching in Wiggins, Croissant said he enjoyed his time coaching with the Tigers and the success the program had during his tenure.

“What we’ve done here is amazing,” Croissant said. “It’s been awesome to win a few state championships and to coach a few state champions. We were able to finish second two years in a row in 2009 and 2010, and even this year with three kids we were in top-15 at state. Those are huge accomplishments.”

This past season was one of his most special years, he said, due to coaching his son to a third-place finish at the state tournament in February.

“That was something that was unlike anything else,” Croissant said. “When I coached my first state champion, that was incredible. But coaching Cael at state and seeing his determination and being in the moment is something I’ll never forget. It was an incredible experience.”

Wiggins qualified three wrestlers to compete at the state tournament in February and saw two place under Croissant in the 2017-18 season.

Brandon Boles: 970-441-5102, sports@fmtimes.com or twitter.com/FMT_Sports



Predators need to regroup vs. Jets, not replace Pekka Rinne – The Tennessean


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Adam Vingan lays out all the missteps the Nashville Predators had in the 7-4 loss to Winnipeg, and what they need to do to capture a win in Game 4.
Autumn Allison, USA TODAY NETWORK- Tennessee

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Everything that happens in a playoff series is seen differently on both sides, such as Winnipeg’s 7-4 win in Tuesday’s Game 3 over Nashville – a stirring comeback and statement from a Jets team that can win a Stanley Cup, or a collapse of the undisciplined Predators.

It usually isn’t just one or the other. Both are true here. And both of these teams remain strong Cup contenders; both are playing with maximum effort and desperation; both will have ample say in the outcome of Thursday’s Game 4 at Bell MTS Place. If the Predators strike back to even the series and set up a best-of-three to reach the Western Conference final, it will be their latest and greatest response to adversity AND it will be a Jets failure to capitalize on opportunity.

More: Predators vs. Jets: 3 things to watch in Game 4 of NHL second-round playoff series

If the Jets go up 3-1, Nashville will prepare to spend the summer lamenting a team that could have had it all but got in its own way. Winnipeg will be hailed as the new “it” team. And still the Jets will need to earn one more win to actually advance. This is not over. It might be a long way from over.

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There is no outcome from here that should surprise us, including the Predators ultimately demonstrating their (slight) superiority. They confirmed Wednesday that the sun had indeed come up, and they had the same assessment of a 3-0 lead turning to a 4-3 deficit in the second period as they did right after the game.

“I think we stopped playing,” captain Roman Josi said. “We kind of sat back, and I mean, they’re such a good team over there, so much speed, and if you give them too much time they’re going to make you pay. … We stopped playing the same way, and that can’t happen.”

More: Predators ‘just stopped playing,’ blow 3-goal lead in Game 3 loss to Jets

That’s the Nashville take. The Winnipeg view of the Game 3 comeback was summed up Wednesday by defenseman Tyler Myers calling it a “huge character switch” and goalie Connor Hellebuyck calling it “a great building moment for our team.”

And the Jets don’t lack for confidence right now.

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Tennessean photographers, Andrew Nelles and George Walker, take you on a behind the scenes look at set up for a Predators NHL playoff game.
Autumn Allison, Andrew Nelles and George Walker, USA Today Network-Tennessee

“They’re going to be coming hard and especially at the start like yesterday,” Jets forward Patrik Laine predicted of the Predators in Game 4, “so we just have to be ready for that and skate hard for 60 minutes, and they’re not going to keep up with us.”

We’ll find out about that. In terms of what happened Tuesday, one side can be right without the other being wrong. But there are two opinions floating around this series – one in Nashville, one in Winnipeg – that need to be buried.

When in doubt, blame Pekka Rinne

The first is the notion that Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne is the problem and should be pulled for Juuse Saros. I don’t know how many Predators fans share this view, but I know there are some, and I’d like to go on record in publicly shaming those people to the extent a family newspaper allows.

The only way to get into coach Peter Laviolette’s head is with a Jedi mind trick, but I will bet he doesn’t give a fleeting thought to a goalie switch. And he shouldn’t. And that is not an endorsement of Rinne’s overall postseason play, which has been right around average and certainly not as strong as his regular season or last postseason. He has to play better for the Predators to reach their goal.

More: Predators either put the undisciplined garbage away, or it will end their postseason early

You’d like him to stop the Blake Wheeler shot that won the game on a third-period power play, even though Rinne’s mask was loose and it was a wicked shot. But here’s the thing: That’s the only goal he allowed Thursday that I would attempt to put on him. He was under siege again, because of defensive mistakes, because the Jets are jets, and I would actually call his performance a step up from Tuesday – the dangerous Laine, in particular, had several good looks turned away by Rinne.

“This series isn’t fun for a goalie,” Hellebuyck said.

“I mean, you just can’t give up chances like that,” Josi said. “There’s really nothing (Rinne) can do.”

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If you want to just look at numbers, they aren’t good – a .901 save percentage in the postseason and a 3.08 goals-allowed average. But this is not like earned-run average in baseball, which is all on a pitcher and accounts for defensive mistakes. This is more like bad numbers for a quarterback who is getting sacked constantly and betrayed by his receivers.

Rinne must find the next level Thursday. Replacing him is a non-consideration. Anyone calling for it is, in a word, wrong. But don’t worry; those people have nothing on Wheeler. Check out what he said Tuesday when asked about the home crowd.

More: Can Predators beat the Jets if they don’t stop Dustin Byfuglien?

 

“Our fans are huge,” Wheeler said. “It’s real, too. Our crowd noise is from the crowd. It’s not from speakers or music or live bands or whatever. That’s people making noise and that goes right through your body.”

Really, Blake? Throwing shade on Bridgestone Arena in that way is petty in the first place, but it’s also inaccurate. Both of these environments are great, and real. I’m not sure how this series will turn out, but I’m sure that will stand as the dumbest thing said when it’s over.

Reach Joe Rexrode at jrexrode@tennessean.com and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.

 

 

 

 



Crusaders aim to extend Aussies' Super Rugby misery in Melbourne – Stuff.co.nz


Jack Goodhue, who returns from a hamstring injury to start at centre for the Crusaders against the Rebels in Melbourne ...

GETTY IMAGES

Jack Goodhue, who returns from a hamstring injury to start at centre for the Crusaders against the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday night, is a contender for a place in the All Blacks’ squad for the June series with France.

It would be timely for some Crusaders players to use their outing against the Rebels on Friday night to roll the equivalent of a grenade into the All Blacks selectors’ nest.

With the All Blacks set to unveil their 33-man squad on May 20 for the three-test series against France, time is fast running out for any “fringe” players to join the country’s elite for the games in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin in June.

Richie Mo’unga, who will make his first appearance in two months against the Rebels in Melbourne, Jack Goodhue, David Havili and Mitchell Drummond all wore the black jersey last year, but couldn’t be considered certainties to play the French.

Outside of this group there are a number who, barring injury, will be locked in for the test window. Sam Whitelock, who is expected to replace the injured Kieran Read as test captain, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, Ryan Crotty and potentially Tim Perry are such candidates.

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Joe Moody, who has yet to represent the Crusaders this year because of injuries, should be picked but the unlucky Israel Dagg, who suffered a knee injury against the Brumbies last weekend, is likely to be given more time to recover. Luke Romano will also scratched due to an ankle injury.

Given the Crusaders have just two more Super Rugby games to play after the outing against the Rebels, their next opponents will be the Waratahs and Blues, opportunities to make a point to the national selectors will be limited.

Luke Whitelock and Akira Ioane could be asked to replace Read at the back of the scrum against the French, and there is also the option of shifting openside flankers Ardie Savea or Sam Cane to the boot.

Then there is one of the Crusaders’ crowd favourites, Jordan Taufua, to consider. The abrasive back rower Taufua, who will start at No 8 against the Rebels, has never been picked for the All Blacks but recently re-committed to NZ Rugby which will take him through to the World Cup next year.

Asked if Taufua could be a contender for the All Blacks squad, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said: “I think all these forwards are. Currently, with the injuries – he is an experienced campaigner, he has always performed to the highest level and has grown his game. He is a chance.”

As far as the Crusaders are concerned, a win at AAMI Park is a must if they want to remain in control of their own destiny and stay at the top of the New Zealand log. While Robertson noted the lack of depth in Aussie was hurting their team’s performances in Super Rugby, he will be only too aware of how competitive life is in his back garden.

Just seven points separate the Crusaders from the fourth-placed Chiefs, with the Christchurch-based team having played an extra game. A loss would be far from ideal.

Halfback Will Genia returns for the Rebels as they look to break a long string of defeats for Australian sides.

MARK METCALFE/GETTY IMAGES

Halfback Will Genia returns for the Rebels as they look to break a long string of defeats for Australian sides.

The Rebels, boosted by the return of halfback Will Genia, have the chance to break a long string of defeats – that embarrassing figure now sits at 36 – by the Australian teams against their Kiwi counterparts.

Much of the talk this week has centred on whether the Blues can keep that run going against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night. That suggests many observers believe it is a given the Crusaders will dump the Rebels on their home ground.

Such talk won’t be welcomed by Robertson.

“The depth of squad is always tested and that’s the most critical thing in Super Rugby,” he said.

“If you’ve got the ability to go three or four deep in a position and still find ways to win, you’re a chance. The next two to three weeks, there’s some games where we’ll see if there’s still a gulf or if it’s been bridged by the Australians.”

AT A GLANCE

Crusaders: David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Mitchell Drummond, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Pete Samu, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Andrew Makalio, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Harry Allan, Michael Alaalatoa, Mitchell Dunshea, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Bryn Hall, Mitch Hunt, Manasa Mataele

Rebels: Jack Maddocks, Sefa Naivalu, Reece Hodge, Billy Meakes, Marika Koroibete, Jack Debreczeni, Will Genia, Amanaki Mafi, Colby Fainga’a, Angus Cottrell, Adam Coleman (c), Geoff Parling, Sam Talakai, Anaru Rangi, Fereti Sa’aga. Reserves: Nathan Charles, Tetera Faulkner, Jermaine Ainsley, Matt Philip, Lopeti Timani, Michael Ruru, Tom English, Semisi Tupou

Referee: Nick Briant

Kickoff: 9.45pm, Friday

TICKET GIVEAWAY

Specsavers and Investec Super Rugby are ensuring you don’t miss a thing by giving Stuff readers the chance to win a double pass to the Blues v Hurricanes match in Auckland on May 11. The prize comes with a voucher for two pairs of designer frames from Specsavers.

To enter, simply join the Rugby Stuff Facebook group, or head to the page if you’re already a member. In the comments field of the giveaway post pick the score for the Hurricanes v Lions match this Saturday night. 

The closest score prediction will win the prize. Entry cut-off is 7.35pm on Saturday.


 – Stuff